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Home / Science / Scientists found a 200,000-year-old bed made of grass and ash

Scientists found a 200,000-year-old bed made of grass and ash

The fossilized grass patches are 200,000 years old.

The fossilized grass patches are 200,000 years old.
Picture: L. Wadley

Archaeologists from South Africa have uncovered crude beds that humans originally created by placing bundles of grass on a layer of ash. It sounds basic, but these Stone Age beds are more sophisticated than at first glance.

The authors of a fascinating new book stated: “We report the discovery of grass used to create comfortable areas for sleeping and working by people living in Border Cave. This is at least 200,000 years. learn published today in Science magazine.

The Border Cave, a stone shelter located in the Lebombo Mountains near the South African border and eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), was continuously occupied by humans from about 227,000 years ago to 1,000 years ago. The grass found here is currently the oldest in archaeological records, the previous record being a 77,000-year-old lawn from Sibudu, South Africa.

Rock shelter in Border Cave on the Lebombo Mountains in southern Africa.

Rock shelter in Border Cave on the Lebombo Mountains in southern Africa.
Picture: A. Kruger

Meatbones, stone tools and cave paintings clearly provide a glimpse of the existence of the Paleolithic period, but there’s so much about the Stone Age peoples that we don’t know. , including some of the more mundane aspects of everyday life. However, without the necessary evidence, archaeologists cannot come to conclusions. Plant material has not been well preserved over a large period of time, highlighting the importance of new evidence found at Border Cave.

This stone shelter is quite large, with insides well protected from the elements, allowing for excellent preservation of the organic material hidden inside. In the words of Lyn Wadley, lead author of the new study and professor of archeology at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, excavations at Border Cave between 2015 and 2019 revealed traces of ‘grass. phytoplankton ”.

Excavations at Border Cave.

Excavations at Border Cave.
Picture: D. Stratford

“The grass will be pretty thick – perhaps at least 30 cm thick [12 inches]—And laid on soft, clean ash, so it should be as comfortable as any camp bed or hay, ”Wadley explained in an email.

On this grass bed that the Paleolithic humans slept, fashionable stone tools, and possibly even red and orange ocher earth, which they could have used to draw objects and even themselves. Although we cannot be sure, these lawns also Probably used for, uh, more entertainment purposes.

During excavation, Wadley’s team discovered a strange thin layer underneath the cave floor. Suspecting something important, archaeologists cut out small chunks, wrapped them in protective plaster and sent them to the lab for further analysis. There, the The researchers analyzed samples using a scanning electron microscope and spectrometer, and analyzed phytoliths, in which plant materials were extracted from soil and sediment samples.

This work has obtained evidence of bilobate leaf cells, spines, stomata and other grass structures. The plant material is identified as belonging to the Panicoideae family, which includes a type of grass called Panicum max. Amazingly, the grass “grows a lot near caves today,” Wadley said.

As the authors hypothesize in the study, who lives in Border Cave used these grass bundles to make litter. Interestingly, the grass is placed on top of the ash layer. This can provide extra comfort and a clean insulating surface, but as the authors pointed out in the study, the ash offers some protection also:

We speculate that placing such a cushion, as well as on the ashes of previously burned bedding, is intentional, because some ethnologists report that the ash repels crawling insects, no It can be easily moved through the fine powder as it blocks their breathing and biting apparatus and ultimately dehydrates them.

The first man is regular burning their grass beds piqued our curiosity, so we asked Wadley to explain this seemingly counterintuitive behavior.

“Burning grass and sheets will wipe out the camping area of ​​pests, from rats to fleas, and clean up dirt. [stale] areas, ”she explained. “Fresh grass will then be brought to create new, clean beds, and then it will be able to occupy the place longer, otherwise it will have to be abandoned. “

Thankfully, this is special The 200,000-year-old bedding was not burned, which suggests the site was abandoned and the bed is not added after that particular career, she explained. The burning classes found below this bed shows The training session started very early. As for the ash, evidence gathered at the Border Cave suggests it originated from bed burning and campfires.

The researchers also found traces of the camphor wood burned. Smoke from this fragranceThe al tree is known to repel flying insects, and it may have been used for this purpose in the Border Cave.

Scanning electron microscope image of a cave sample, showing the spines and stomata.

Scanning electron microscope image of a cave sample, showing the spines and stomata.
Picture: L. Wadley

Interestingly, the researchers also found traces of rock fragments and blade fabrication in the padding, as well as ocher seed. Therefore, these grass beds provide a place to sleep in addition to providing a comfortable place to sleep, but also a place to perform everyday tasks. Of course possible, that oily soil was not disposed of on these beds and that red and orange pigments fall off their skin when these people are resting. Either way, it was a damn interesting observation.

When asked whether these grass bundles could be used for something other than bedding, such as dust in a fire, Wadley said the grass was deliberately arranged, often taller. several meters, this indicates a desire to create clean surfaces for sleeping and working.

We also asked if these weeds can accumulate naturally, without human intervention.

“Nesting birds and some animals sleep on the grass, so this is a good question,” Wadley said. “The cushions point towards the back of the cave, hidden from the wind and potentially safe from predators when a fire breaks out in front of you. The cave was completely dry and nothing grew in it, so the grass from the back of the cave was brought there; it cannot grow inside a cave. “

What’s more, the cave sits on the edge of a cliff, making it difficult for grass to blow inside, she said.

“Grass grows in layers, and on top of layers are stone tools, bones from meals, wood, which is what people used on a clean surface can work as well,” Wadley said. where to sleep. “Next to the beds are small fireplaces that were supposed to be used in the home and captive predators. This arrangement is a typical hunter-gatherer camp. ”

As Wadley explains, the discovery seems simple enough about this 200,000-year-old grass bedding some very significant anthropological implications. It shows that the first human to live at the moment – about 100,000 years after the launch homo sapiens—Used their large brains to solve problems and innovate, that is a defining trait of our species. These people have also demonstrated the ability to create and use fire and to seeks to use its by-products, namely ash and tobacco smoke.

“Through using ash and medicinal plants to repel insects, we found that they had some knowledge of pharmacology,” she added. “What’s more, they can extend their stay at their favorite campsites by planning ahead and cleaning them up through smoking beds. Therefore, they already have some basic knowledge about health care through the practice of hygiene. “

Obviously, get rid of of the The annoying pests were a frequent pastime for these Paleolithic people. Not only that, it seems that they are quite good at doing this, figuring out creative ways to keep their whereabouts from being dreadfully crawled.. As this study shows, wanting and maintaining a comfortable, well-kept bed is a timeless activity.

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